Just a short time ago, Tedy Bruschi mulled retirement, while Junior Seau mulled another comeback from retirement. And so goes the days of our lives or at least the story of the roster depth at middle linebacker for the New England Patriots.
The situation may not be quite that dramatic, but undoubtedly the plight of the Patriots linebacker corps was a concern at the end of the 2006 season. The Patriots were literally just a few minutes away from another trip to the Super Bowl, when their tired, flu-ridden defense gave up the final points that sealed the end of their playoff run. The linebackers were a key part of the defensive scheme that the rival Indianapolis Colts exploited to come back from a three-touchdown deficit to steal a victory at the RCA Dome.
Nearly two months later the Patriots took a huge step in the right direction when they signed highly coveted linebacker Adalius Thomas in the opening weekend of free agency. Signing Thomas added more talent to the group, but concern at this point is depth. With Bruschi returning, and Seau's fate undecided, the Patriots have only part of the answer in the middle, and another run-stuffing backer in the middle would help.
One of the names thrown about when discussing possible additions via free agency is linebacker Kawika Mitchell (Chiefs). Thought of as more of a run-stuffer who has the size to play in the middle, Mitchell might be a fit in New England, among other places, as some have speculated.
|Mike Anderson #38 of the Baltimore Ravens rushes against Kawika Mitchell #50 of the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium December 10, 2006 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Ravens beat the Chiefs 20-10. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)|
Mitchell was supposed to have a visit with the Detroit Lions the first week of free agency, but that trip never materialized. Having played in a system, which was comparable to what the Lions' scheme would require of him, it was believed Mitchell would land a job quickly in Detroit. That didn't happen. "We thought he would get more attention than he's getting," said one source familiar with Mitchell's situation in Kansas City. The Chiefs opted to replace Mitchell by signing Donnie Edwards (A former Chief) and Napoleon Harris, two free agent linebackers who have more speed, or more ability to make plays.
Kansas City was initially interested in bringing back Mitchell at the start of free agency, but his contract expectations were too high. Mitchell's agent was trying to land his client a five-year, $25 million deal. Now he'll be lucky to get a $1 million, one-year deal according to sources in Kansas City.
The scouting report on Mitchell from Kansas City is that he is solid against the run and works better moving side to side - albeit without a lot of speed - than he does moving forward and backwards. He would often blitz only to have the quarterback in his sights but wouldn't make the tackle. He has decent coverage skills but he's not a difference maker. Or as Warpaint Illustrated's Nick Athan put it, "Kind of a poor man's Monty Beisel..."
Last season, the Chiefs switched to the Cover Two (which is a pre-modified version of Detroit's system, and similar to what the Patriots have been known to run) under Herm Edwards, and Mitchell struggled occasionally against the run. Still, his athleticism was apparent. In only his fifth season, Mitchell may have more upside to fill a role with any team willing to give him the chance. The problem Mitchell now faces is the talent available in the Draft. Teams that need a playmaker at linebacker see Paul Posluszny, Jon Beason, Patrick Willis and Laurence Timmons as players with greater upside than Mitchell.
Mitchell could fill a role with the Patriots, but after seeing what happened with Monty Beisel -- the last Chiefs linebacker the Patriots signed -- they wouldn't break the bank to make him an offer. Mitchell is not currently on the radar in New England, but that could change. If it does, he could fill the shoes Barry Gardner was supposed to fill last season.Career Stats: Kawika Mitchell
Nick Athan of WarpaintIllustrated.com and Nate Caminata of TheRoarReport.com contributed to this article.